2010 Christmas Story Contest Winners

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story and to those who read them and commented and voted. We had 42 stories submitted this time. I think that's a record!

I will make comments on each of these stories during the week, giving you my opinion on what was done well and what needed a little more polish. If you're not a winner and you'd like to take credit for your story, you may do so in the comments section.

Drum roll, please. . .

Readers Choice Published Author Category: With Wondering Awe by Jennifer Carson Shelton

Publisher's Choice Published Author Category: Slushballs by Janice Sperry

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: A Soldier's Story by Amie Borst

Publisher's Choice Unpublished Author Category: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh by Wendy Elliott

Remember, these four winners are guaranteed a spot in a future Christmas book. Others will be included, as well. I will notify all those whose stories will be included in the book via e-mail by the end of the month.


2010 Christmas Story Voting Instructions

Please read the voting instructions carefully before casting your vote.

Voting for LDSP's 2010 Christmas Story Contest starts NOW!

VOTE between December 20th and midnight on Friday, December 24th.

Voting Info:
  1. There will be four winners:
    Readers Choice (Published authors)
    Readers Choice (Unpublished authors)
    Publisher's Choice (Published authors)
    Publisher's Choice (Unpublished authors).

  2. Publisher's Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system. But it basically boils down to quality of writing, uniqueness of story and what I think will best sell a book.

  3. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don't make it a popularity contest.

  4. You MAY vote for your own story. (In fact, you should. I am constantly amazed by the number of stories that receive no votes. What's wrong with you people?)

  5. You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished.

    Click HERE to read all stories by Published Authors. Vote for two.

    Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. Vote for two.

    NOTE: There are 20 stories in the Unpublished Author category and 22 stories in the Published Author category. Due to the limitations of Blogger, they do not all show up on one page. After you've read the first batch, click the OLDER POSTS link at the bottom right below the last story to go to the next page of stories.

  6. To Place Your Vote: The word "VOTE" must appear in your comment. Leave a comment for the story your voting for with the words, I VOTE FOR THIS ONE or THIS ONE GETS MY VOTE or some other phrase that CLEARLY indicates you are voting. Comments that say, "I like this one..." will not be counted as a vote.

  7. You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING must contain the word VOTE.

  8. Anonymous votes count. We're using the Honor System here and trusting that no one will over vote.

  9. AUTHORS: Please tell your friends that you've submitted a story and to come read and vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.

  10. I'll announce the winners on Tuesday, December 28th.

[P.S. All comments on the stories and Voting Comments will enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

[P.P.S. I won't be posting this week. I'll be very busy reading stories.]


Christmas Story Contest Is Now Closed

The submission portion of the 2010 Christmas Story Contest is now over. We had 42 entries. That's wonderful!

Tomorrow morning at 7:00 A.M. (MST) sharp, I will post voting instructions. Please read these instructions carefully before casting your votes.

Good luck to all those who submitted stories!

42 Feeling like the Grinch

"My heart is not two sizes too small Connie." Kaida yelled annoyed that her little sister could be so ridiculous. It was two days before Christmas and Kaida wasn't quite feeling the Christmas spirit.

“Mom I’m going to take the bus to the ski resort.” She called right as she was about to walk out the front door.

“Actually.” Mom said “Your Father and I thought that since it was so close to Christmas we could go skiing as a family.”

“Mom.” Kaida groaned.

“We’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.” Mom called as she made her way down the hall.

“Why are we going skiing?” Connie whined as the family piled into the car.

“To feel the Christmas spirit.” Dad said.

“More like you want to ruin my hair.” Connie griped turning her scowl out the window to the frozen landscape. “Why couldn’t we go ice skating. That’s so much more fun.”

Mom and Dad chose to ignore that comment.

Kaida wanted to gripe too but she stayed silent. They would probably have to go home and share the Christmas spirit by watching Frosty the Snowman if she started complaining also.

As soon as they were on the cross country skiing hills Mom told Kaida that if she tried to ditch them they she would be grounded for at least a month. Kaida decided that being grounded was definitely not worth it.

As they started skiing Kaida tried to show Mom and Dad what a terrible idea this was by glaring at everything that lived or breathed.

This didn’t work for long though because Mom had somehow gotten Connie into the Christmas Spirit or had given her too much candy. Either way Connie was giggling and laughing at things that didn’t seem at all funny to Kaida.

At one particular moment Connie was giggling like a hyena about something dad had whispered to her when they rounded the corner to a hill and Connie began slipping down the hill faster than she meant too witch made her grab onto dad trying to balance herself. This made dad start to fall also.

Kaida looked back at them and smirked. “Amateurs.” She muttered. But before she realized it they had run into her and the three of them had fallen onto the ground. Then mom who was bringing up the rear became part of the mess as she was unable to swerve out of the way. The three of them tried to get up but it was really hard because their skis were all tangled together.

Suddenly Connie started laughing and Kaida almost started to yell at her but then she realized what a scene they were making and she joined in laughing so hard that she almost fell over. Maybe the Spirit of Christmas wasn’t so bad after all.

41 The Christmas Mouse

‘Twas a few days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for one blasted mouse.

J.D next to me snores his peaceful sleep, the sleep of hard work. The children are nestled all snug in their beds, unaware of the havoc that one wretched little creature wreaks on my sanity. I hear him. I slide my feet into slippers and creep, ever so softly, to the dresser where he has taken up residence.

Flashlight in hand I crawl down on all fours and shine it into the space between the floor and bottom side of the dresser. His black beady little eyes shine back at me for an instant, and then he’s gone—shot straight into a hole on the bottom side of the wood.

I yank the drawers out, tossing them onto the bed—thus disturbing my dear husband’s rest.

“What are you doing?” He struggles up on one elbow and peers at me.

Whirling around, I shine the light in his face. “That mouse is going to destroy this house.”

“I’ll get a trap in the morning. Now come back to bed.”

The sheets are now cold, and I swear under my breath at not only the mouse and his demolition of my home, but at J.D.’s comfort in sleeping through such racket. I try to snuggle in. My toes hit an especially frigid spot in the sheets. I clutch the cold metal of the flashlight and listen. Nothing. I start to doze. That rascal must have been watching, for as soon as my eyes close, he begins again, this time from somewhere higher. I flip on my light and shine it at the little monster. He glares back at me, mocking me. In his tiny mouth he holds a bright red string off my favorite sweater. Did he just smile at me? Oh, you rotten little critter. I take careful aim and hurl the flashlight at the dresser. It skims across the top knocking over an array of perfume bottles which go clattering to the floor. The last thing I see in the beam is his little tail flip out of view where he disappears behind the mirror.

“What in the blazes are you doing?”

“I saw the mouse again.”

J.D. is standing next to the bed. “I told you I’d take care of it tomorrow.”

Sheepishly, I pick up the decanters, some of which spilled, and now the room reeks of a mixture of wildflowers, musk and wood scents—all at once.

He opens the window letting in a blast of frozen air, climbs back into bed and bids me a gruff good night.

After cleaning the surfaces with Lysol wipes I crawl, shivering, back into the now icy sheets. My toes are numb. My nose is running, but I refuse to drag my hands out of the covers and reach for a tissue, so I keep sniffling. To which my husband asks, “Are you crying?”

“No, just cold.”

He pokes me. “I’m trying to sleep here.” And then he rolls over and begins snoring again.

He better buy that mouse trap.

Next morning I shuffle out of bed into the frigid air, close the window and turn up the thermostat. The aroma of eau de par fume has dissipated. J.D. still sleeps soundly, and I scuffle off to the bathroom for a hot shower. What do I see on my countertop? Mouse droppings, not many, but enough to make me nauseous.

“J.D.!” I shrill at him. “You better get that trap today!” I drag out more Lysol wipes and disinfect not only the flat surfaces, but the tub, sinks and floor. Satisfied, I reach for the faucet in the shower and grab, not the nozzle, but a fuzzy mouse tail. Another scream pierces the early morning.

“Mommy?” Little Megan peers around the door. “What’s the matter?”

“Mouse!” It’s not that I’m afraid of them. I’ve seen enough of them, even fed one to a snake once. But to come upon one like that sent heeby-jeeby chills down my spine.

I looked again. It’s only the tail end of the nylon loofa sponge. My heart still races, my palms sweating.

J.D. patted the top of Megan’s head. “Hi, Sweetheart. Your mommy is having mouse issues.”

“Today, John! It’s either me or that mouse.”

True to his word, J.D. buys, not only several mouse traps but poison as well. I began laying them out—a little dab of peanut butter on the spring, a little sprinkle of powder. That ought to do it. I rest assured that little critter doesn’t have a chance.

After three days I don’t seen a trace of him. At last I am rid of him. Yet each trap I check is sprung, the peanut butter stolen, and there are no paw prints in the poison. This is no ordinary creature. Thinks he can outsmart me, huh?

We begin preparations for Christmas Eve. The tree set up in the front room, garlands on the banister, and lights around the house. I reset all the traps, even putting a tad of poison in with the peanut butter. That will show him who is boss.

Christmas eve I wake up to his chewing, hear a little pop and the soft lights from the living room that shine upstairs abruptly blink out. I poke J.D. “There’s someone in the house.”

He rolls over, gives me a quick pat on the hip. “You’re hearing things.”

Again I poke, this time harder. “Look, the lights went out.” I point toward our open bedroom door. “Go see what it is.”

“If there’s a burglar downstairs, I am not going face to face with him.”

I hand him the phone. “Then call the police.”

The squad car pulls up to the curb, and J.D gets up the nerve to open the front door and let in the officers.

“There’s a burglar in the house.” I stand behind J.D. My heart racing.

The uniformed man pulls out his pad and begins scratching notes on it. “Tell me what you heard.”

“This pop came from down here and then the lights went out.” I point to the tree. “See.”

The officer’s partner begins a search of the downstairs. By this time two of our four children have come down the stairs and are standing in the front room. Jake in his baggy t-shirt, Megan rubs at her sleepy eyes. Baby James starts yelling from his room next to ours.

“I don’t see anything.” The officer returns to the living room. “I’ll make a quick check upstairs.”
I follow him up the stairs and into Micah’s room. My fifteen month son reaches for me, and I hoist him onto my hip. Micah stirs in his bed but doesn’t waken.

“Honey.” I hear J.D. holler up at me.

With the baby in my arms I lead the way back down the stairs into the front room.

“Here’s your problem.” The officer shows me one of the cords to the light strand. “Your husband tells me you have a mouse problem.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” I examine where it is chewed through.

“Mrs. Collins, I can assure you that while this intruder isn’t harmless, he isn’t dangerous. I’m surprised he didn’t electrocute himself.” The policemen bids us good night. I can hear their chuckles all the way to their squad car. And I catch the sound of my husband’s snickers as well.

With the baby back in bed, Jake and Megan given drinks of water and quick kisses I reassure them all is well. I curl back into bed which is chilled again, knowing I am living with a marauder under my roof. Once I close my eyes, I am sure I hear the sound of giggles followed by gut splitting peals of laughter. I imagine that white-furred demon is rather amused at his antics. I make a mental note to redouble my efforts in the morning. He will not get away with ruining my Christmas!

Christmas morning comes before dawn has a chance to even show her face. All four children run squealing into our room and pounce on us. Bleary-eyed we roll out of bed, trudge down the stairs and stare at our rapscallion-darkened tree. Never-the-less, Santa has arrived anyway, and a plethora of gifts beckon for attention.

A half hour later wrapping is strewn across the floor. I hope I will be able to sort out what are gifts. J.D. hands me a lovely box wrapped as only a gift shop can do. A sheepish grin spreads across his face. Since I hadn’t opened my traditional pistachio nuts, I figure this must be it. Excited, I peel back the wrapping with all the wild abandon of my four little merry makers. I scream. Not with delight, but terror. There in the box looking up at me is two of the beadiest eyes I’ve ever seen. I think he screams. Or maybe I imagine that, too. He leaps from the box, runs for the kitchen and dashes behind the refrigerator.

Laughing J.D. put his arms around me.

“That’s not funny!” I fling the box at him, scattering nuts everywhere. Apparently, the little rascal chewed a hole in the packaging.

“I didn’t put him in there.” J.D. shrugs. “I’ll buy you another bag tomorrow.”

I don’t want to spoil the children’s Christmas so I smile sweetly up at him and through gritted teeth I say, “I would rather you get rid of that mouse!”

“Mommy, Mommy.” Micah tugs at my robe. “We forgot to put the baby Jesus in the manger.”

In all of the commotion of the mouse last night, and then the early awakening this morning, we had indeed forgotten the most important of our family traditions. “I’ll get him.” I wander into the kitchen to retrieve the porcelain figurine when I stop short. There on the counter is that wily rascal. He runs behind a cookie sheet propped against the backsplash. I grab the first two cups I see and slide them from each side of the cookies and close in on that critter. He has nowhere to run. I scoop him up as I close both cups over him.

“Ha! Thought you’d outsmart me this time.” I gaze into his terrified little eyes through the plastic. This mouse is history.

Triumphant, I walk into the living room and hold up my prisoner. Victory is sweet. “I know what I am going to do with you, my four footed furry fiend.” I march into the bathroom, the whole family in tow. They stand and watch as I toss him into the toilet. I hear my family gasp. Before I change my mind I give the handle a resounding flush, and smile with satisfaction as it struggles against the current—his little legs pumping faster than I’d ever seen him scamper across my floors.

Puzzled I give the toilet another flush. Panic on its face, he stares up at me. I reach for the handle again.

J.D. places his hand over mine and draws it back. “It’s Christmas.” He reaches into the toilet and fishes out the drowning bit of a thing. Holding it up by its tail God’s creature looks back at me, pleading in its face.

Defeated, I hold out the cup. J.D. drops it in. Together we walk to the back door where our house butts against the forest. While there is no snow on the ground, it is cold. I lay out a dishtowel, set the mouse on the rag. He buries himself among the folds, sticks his nose out once. And for a moment, just a brief moment, I could have sworn I heard him say, “Merry Christmas.”

And I couldn’t help but think that my Savior loves that little mouse, too.


40 Christmas Stash

“But why would Jeremy’s boss do such a thing?” Mom shook her head.

“Oh, it’s simple,” Claire said as she pinned up another section of the garland. “Eat and be eaten, you know,” she gave a significant nod, her eyebrows arched high.

“But will he really be able to find a new position?” Mom insisted.

“Don’t worry about that,” Claire responded merrily. Her swollen belly jiggled to and fro as she bustled with some ribbons. “Jeremy will be snatched up in no time.”

“But, dear,” Mom said with concern, “it’s got to be before—”

“Stop worrying, Mom!” Claire laughed. “I’m sure we’ll just have time to get hired—somewhere—and find a new house—someplace—before little Isla joins us.”

Mom’s lips were still a thin line, but she didn’t voice any more doubts.

“Angie!” Claire set down the figurines she was arranging on the mantel and hurried over. “You’ve got it all wrong!”

“What are you talking about?” Angie countered.

“You’re supposed to do the advent counting down, not up.” Claire pulled the tole-painted pieces from Angie’s hand and began rearranging them the other way.

“But this way you just think of the date,” Angie protested.

Claire ignored her. “There,” she said, stepping back and smiling, the advent numbers beautifully arranged counting down. “Now you can turn them to today.” Claire waddled back to the box of decorations to select her next prey.

“Christmas Nazi,” Angie muttered. It had always been like this, ever since they were little children. Claire was always taking charge, always arranging, always bossing, and setting up the Christmas decorations topped it all. Now that Claire was married, and Angie still was not, it was even worse. “Jeremy and I like to do this” and “Jeremy and I like it like that” had droned on and on, day and night, since Christmas vacation had begun.

“Angie! Can you help me with the star?” Claire called from the living room. Yes, leave it to Angie, the giant, to put the star on the Christmas tree and answer Claire’s every beck and call.

There were only two years between them, but the way Claire treated Angie made it seem like ten. “Now you can do this, Angie? Now you can do that?” Who did she think she was—a second mom or something?

Angie perched the star on top of the tree. She cleared the paper and bubble wrap strewn in the wake of Claire, the decorating diva. Then Angie pulled the empty boxes into the garage and set them back in the rafters. All the while, Claire was jabbering away to Mom about her plans for the baby room, when she and Jeremy got a new house, that is. Nobody said a word to Angie. It was like she was some mute servant hovering in and out, assisting when needed, as invisible as her six-foot height could possibly be.

“Angie, can you lift this?” Claire asked, pointing to a sack of flour in the kitchen.

“Now, Angie,” Claire said when the flour was on the counter, “you spray the pans, but I’ll roll out the cookie dough. You always get it uneven, you know.”

Angie tried not to grind her teeth. Apparently she had stumbled into a bake shop and had volunteered her services.

“I know these are your favorite, Mom!” Claire called cheerfully as she pulled the ball of sugar cookie dough from the refrigerator. As if Angie hadn’t been the one to mix the dough the day before.

“Now, Mom,” Claire said. “We’ll just bake these up and frost them after dinner. Then Angie can go delivering, just like the good old days.”

Angie kept her gaze on the countertop, cutting each cookie deliberately and violently while trying to suppress the memory of how she had always been the one to pull their little red wagon around the neighborhood with the Christmas goodies while little Claire pranced ahead singing Christmas carols.

“No, no,” Claire said, bustling over to Angie and tearing up the tree-shaped cookie forms. “We wanted angels, right Mom?” Claire rolled Angie’s trees back into a ball. “There, start again. Here’s the angel.”

Angie bit her lip and punched at the ball of dough. Now there was a cookie dictator in the house.

“Honestly, Mom,” Claire smiled, returning to her cup of cocoa at the table. “I’m glad that I came home early to help out. What a state the house would be in without my touch!”

“Stop!” Angie jumped to her feet and put her hand over her ears. Sticky crumbs of dough fell along her cheek, and there were probably hand marks of flour in her hair, but she didn’t care. “Just quit it, Claire, all right? I’m right here, you know. You don’t have to talk like I can’t hear.”

It was like someone had pressed the mute button, the kitchen was so silent. Claire’s eyebrows were nearly to her hairline, and Mom looked like she was about to cry.

“Look,” Angie stammered, already ashamed of her outburst, “I’m sorry, it’s just--” she grabbed a towel off the counter and brushed the flour off her hands, stalling as she tried to find the words to express what she felt.

“It’s okay,” Claire said, shrugging her shoulders and turning back to the cookie cutters. “That time of the month, huh? We all get it, Angie. No big deal.”

Angie threw down the towel and stomped out of the room. Her coat was hanging on the rack by the door. She ripped it from its hook and tore out of the house, the sleigh bells on the doorknob jingling behind her.

The winter air cut at her flushed cheeks, but between a fast walk and a fuming temper, Angie wasn’t cold. She couldn’t believe that Claire would make a PMS crack at her. It was the lowest of the low.

The sun was just about to set, and after a few blocks Angie knew she wouldn’t be able to stay out much longer. Mom always worried if Angie or Claire was out alone in the dark, and Angie still didn’t like to make Mom worry.

Up just up the street, Mrs. Miller was bringing a set of poinsettias back into her house. “Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Miller called, and Angie gave a wave. As angry as she had been a few minutes ago, Angie liked Mrs. Miller. She was a little deaf and talked to her cats, but she always said hello and used to let Angie and Claire pick her apples every fall when they were little girls.

“How’s your mother, Angie?” Mrs. Miller called.

“Great,” Angie said. “The doctor says the transplant is taking really well.”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Miller’s smile lit her face up to her sponge curlers. “I like to give ’em a little sun,” Mrs. Miller explained as she picked up the red leafy plants and gave them a shake. “Keeps ’em nice longer.”

Angie smiled as she said good night and watched Mrs. Miller’s carpet slippers shuffle back into her glowing house.

It was dinner time by now, but Angie was far from hungry and even farther from wanting to confront her family. Sure enough, Dad’s car was in the driveway and the lights were on in the dining room. Angie snuck in through the side door and upstairs to her room.

The gentle rumble of dinner table conversation filtered up through the vents. Maybe they wouldn’t notice Angie was home before they left to pick up Jeremy, who was finishing up his last days of work, from the airport. Angie plopped on her bed and pulled a novel from the stack she had picked out for Christmas break. After the fifth attempt of reading a page and getting nothing out of it, she dropped the book on her bedside table and went to the bathroom for a drink.

It was the same bathroom that Claire and Angie had shared all growing up. At first it was nostalgic to see all Claire’s cosmetics lined along the bathroom counter once more, but the stray tissues and bits of packaging that Claire dropped everywhere were getting pretty annoying. It only took a few days for Angie to remember how much she hated her sister’s carelessness, probably Claire’s one imperfection.

As Angie took her cup from the corner of the counter to fill it with water, she noticed Claire’s ring tray glittering with its delicate charges. The rings were probably there for safe keeping from the cookie dough. Angie looked at the ring tray for minute, and then poked her head out into the hall. The sounds of clinking forks and talking were still floating up the stairs. Angie returned to the bathroom, shut the door, and picked up the rings.

The dainty circlets of smooth, elegant, white gold glinted in the soft bathroom light. Angie glided the rings onto the tip of her finger, the three diamonds sparkling like exquisite stars, but the rings slid no further. Claire’s hands, like her whole figure, were willowy and thin, while Angie had always felt like she had too many limbs.

Angie returned the rings to the tray and looked in the mirror. She was angry at herself now for being so selfish. Claire meant well, she always had. Yes, she still was a bossy older sister, but she had taken care of Angie all her life. It was Claire who had known what to say to everyone when Mom was sick with kidney disease. It was Claire who always helped Mom while Angie locked her dreaded fears in her heart along with her voice.

A pounding on the staircase made Angie jump. She ran the sink and splashed her face with water so Claire would know the bathroom was occupied. The hand towel had been left on the floor, thanks to Cluttery Claire, so Angie bent down to the cupboard under the sink to grab a clean, new one. Her hand hit something hard and she heard the crinkle of wrapping paper. Reaching farther into the cupboard, Angie pulled out a box that was almost a perfect cube and about the size of a tissue box. It was wrapped in the prettiest shimmering gold paper and tied with a bright, silky red bow. “To Angie” the top of the handmade gift tag read.

Angie gave the box a little shake. She heard something heavy clunk around among its tissue-paper padding. Her shake had turned the tag over, and she noticed a longer note on the backside: “Dear Angie, I wanted to get you something really special for Christmas this year. I know I’ve been pretty bad at giving you things I would want—like makeup and spa packages—in the past, but this year I really wanted you to know that I care about you, not just what you might think I want you to be, if that makes sense. I’m so proud of how well you’re doing in school. It’s not what I would, or did, want to study, but I’m glad you’re figuring out your thing. I hope this will help. Thanks for being my little sister and putting up with me for all these years. Love, Claire.”

The click of the light switch and the shuffling sounds of a pregnant lady’s waddle in the next room made Angie’s heart beat fast. She flipped on the sink again, shoved the package back into its hiding place, turned off the sink, and fled to her room. A minute later, through the double doors, she heard Claire’s muffled knock to see if Angie was still in the bathroom. It was early, but Angie flipped off her light and dived into her bed. Maybe no one would bother her if they thought she was asleep.

Half an hour later, the back door slammed, the garage rolled open, and Angie heard the family van pull out the driveway. When she was sure they were far enough down the street, Angie sat up and flipped on her bedside lamp. She leaned her back against the wall and spun a decorative pillow up and down into the air: swish, plump, swish, plump.

It surprised Angie that she felt no curiosity about the gift. Claire had certainly written quite a lead-up to it, but it was what Claire had said about giving meaningful and wanted gifts that kept rolling through Angie’s mind. Most of Claire’s gifts Angie really hadn’t valued at all—she had always hated the perfumes, eye shadows, and nail polish that Claire gave her—but now, she felt kind of bad about her ingratitude.

It was the rings, Angie finally settled on, that had started the change. The particulars of Claire’s wedding—the zillion lists of d├ęcor, gourmet food, protocols, plans, and all the other trappings—still brought on nightmares. However, now that Claire and Jeremy had lived a new life together for a few years, Angie had to admit that those rings represented more than just the expensive white dress and perfect roses Claire had ordered. Angie thought of what Claire had said about Jeremy just that day—Claire’s faith, devotion, and loyalty to him—and it made Angie a little awed—and a little jealous--that Claire was such a good wife and so happy.

Angie slid off her bed and dug beneath it for her hidden stash of Christmas gifts. They were still unwrapped. Claire always said that Angie wrapped presents like a fifth grader—like they had been chewed up by a dog before they were placed under the tree. Shrugging the thought off, Angie pulled out her proposed gifts, one by one.

There was the CD of old favorites that Mom would probably cry over. Sure, Angie’s parents still had all the songs on vinyl record and liked them best that way, but the CDs would be useful in the car.

Angie took out the box of chocolate-dipped peppermint sticks for Dad. It was a running joke between Angie and him that this was all he ever wanted for Christmas. If he could count on her to get his favorite treat, he’d have a Merry Christmas no matter what. Angie smiled and put the peppermint aside.

Next she pulled out the Wii game she had bought for Jeremy. She was still figuring him out, but she thought he would like it. He and Claire had friends over a lot, and this party game was one of Angie’s favorites for group dates at school.

The last thing in the box was Angie’s gift for Claire: a wimpy bottle of lotion. It wasn’t even the on-brand that Claire liked, just the generic. Angie had picked it up without a thought, and picked up the cheap bottle thinking that with Jeremy being let go and all they’d have to learn to economize anyway.

Angie pushed the box of Christmas secrets away with her foot. The lotion tipped and rattled against the cardboard side. She was ashamed of her gift now after reading Claire’s heartfelt note. All this time, Angie had thought that Claire was the lame sister, the sister who didn’t listen, who didn’t care. Okay, Claire definitely had her faults, but her intentions were good. Maybe their broken relationship, which was getting rockier as the years passed, was Angie’s fault—Angie who wouldn’t speak her mind, Angie who didn’t communicate, Angie who had given up when Claire never had.

Angie reached into the cardboard box, grabbed the lotion, and tossed it into the trash can under her desk. After a minute, she thought better of that move, retrieved the lotion, and took it to the bathroom and added it to Claire’s line of cosmetics on the counter. Then she returned to her desk and switched on her computer.

Mom had been thinking of throwing a baby shower for Claire with all her old friends, the neighbors, and the church ladies that they had known their whole lives. Before, Angie had cringed at the idea of another party for Claire, but now she realized it was just what Claire needed—and what Angie needed to make up for all her sour sister moments. She cruised through several party supply sites and picked out invitations, decorations, and favors—all the ones she had heard Claire describe to Mom the week before. Angie printed the list. She could show it to Mom tomorrow. Maybe they could even make the shower a surprise.

Next she browsed Claire’s online baby registry. She picked out a few gifts that she knew would be really meaningful to Claire—one for the shower, one for Christmas, and one for the birth. She was taking stock in this baby after all. If she was going to compete with Jeremy’s sisters for favorite Auntie, she had better start right now.

Finally, Angie went downstairs and pulled the golf catalogue out of the trash in Dad’s den. Maybe it was time to give a little more in her other Christmas gifts too. This year peppermint sticks would just be part of the wrapping.

What I liked best: Loved it.

Publication ready: Needs a little tightening up, but overall, it was wonderful. I want this in the book.

39 The Legend of the Broken Candy Cane

As you may know, the Christmas candy cane represents the staff of the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus when He was born. What has not yet been explained is the reason that some candy canes are broken. . .

There was once a shepherd named Eleazar. He was not very old, but he was on his way into manhood. One clear night Eleazar was watching over his little flock of sheep on the same small hill where several of his friends also watched their flocks. This evening was like any other; it was calm and quiet. The darkness was barely lit by the pale moon and the distant stars that sparkled in the sky.

While watching their flocks by night, the shepherds were startled when suddenly there was a glorious brightness that filled the sky. They shielded their eyes with their hands while they gazed about to see where the light was coming from.

The shepherds soon realized that the light was descending from heaven, and an angel was speaking to them. They were very afraid, but the angel told them not to fear. The messenger declared that a baby had been born in Bethlehem, and He would be the Savior of mankind. The angel also told them about the bright new star that appeared in the sky. Before they could fully comprehend what was happening, the angel was gone. Eleazar and his friends stood in stunned silence for a moment. They could hardly believe what had just happened. An angel had come to announce the marvelous gift the world had been given.

Eleazar gazed up and saw the new star which was so brilliant that it illuminated the dim sky unlike any other. All they had to do was follow that star to a stable to see the special baby in the manger. The shepherds went hastily to witness the event. Eleazar went too.

As the shepherds traveled to the stable, Eleazar lagged further behind them. Eleazar was a dreamer, and this night was no exception. As he slowly walked, he played with his sheep and imagined the scene that would lie before him in the stable that night. Eleazar would catch up to his friends later.

As Eleazar was deep in thought, he did not notice that Nuri, his youngest and tiniest lamb, had wandered a little way off from the rest of the flock. In the light of the new star, Eleazar caught a glimpse of a smoky-gray wolf in the distance racing toward his precious Nuri. The wolf was hungry, and Nuri was in danger.

Eleazar’s heart started to beat wildly. The shepherd dropped his staff to the ground and sped as quickly as he could to his little Nuri. As soon as he reached her, he bent down and scooped up the fluffy bundle in his arms just as the attacker raced past Eleazar and snapped its teeth angrily at the young man’s leg. The wolf circled around while Eleazar ran with Nuri clutched tightly in his arms. The shepherd rushed the lamb back to the flock to escape the threat.

The wolf was not about to accept his defeat. Any lamb would do now. As the wolf headed back toward the flock, the shepherd raced closer to his staff that he had abandoned earlier. Before he could reach it, the wolf ran near him, eyes focused on his next meal. The shepherd was barely close enough, but he reached out and swiftly kicked the wolf in one of its front legs. The hungry animal collapsed and scraped the side of its jaw hard on the rocky ground and yowled in pain. The wolf slowly regained its stance, shook its head, and headed again for the flock of sheep.

Eleazar rushed to grab his staff as a weapon against the menacing animal. His heart was pounding. He ran back to the wolf which was nearing his flock. Holding the rounded part of his staff, Eleazar swung it low and struck the wolf across its chest. He hit the beast so hard that he could hear his staff crack.

The wolf landed on the ground with a forceful thud and was hardly breathing. Eleazar did not look back but used this opportunity to get away. He scurried up a low, rocky hill to rejoin his sheep. In his haste, the shepherd’s foot slipped on a rock. He twisted his right ankle and fell onto his hands and knees. As he fell, his right leg was struck below his knee by a sharp rock which cut deep into his flesh. Cringing, Eleazar fell to his side and gripped his shin with both hands as he realized the pain. Warm crimson fluid flowed from his wound with every heartbeat.

Eleazar needed help, but his friends were too far ahead of him to realize what had happened. He gently wiped what red liquid he could from his leg with his course wool robe, but the blood still trickled out. Holding tightly onto his fragile staff for support, Eleazar gently lifted himself up and hobbled to his flock. Eleazar suddenly recalled why he was traveling. He resumed his journey and limped after the new star. He still needed to reach his destination—the baby born in the stable.

As the shepherd and his flock trudged slowly onward, Eleazar noticed the silhouettes of other shepherds close to a tiny village off in the distance. He decided to stray from the path that would lead him to the stable to seek help from them.

As he approached the strangers, Eleazar greeted them feebly. Seeing his injury, the shepherds helped Eleazar sit down on a sizeable rock, and one kind shepherd tended to his wounds.

While his bleeding leg was washed and bound and his ankle was being wrapped, Eleazar related the events of the angel’s visit. He explained to them that he was on his way to see the miraculous baby born in Bethlehem. To his surprise, they laughed at him. These other shepherds did not believe him because they had not seen the angel for themselves. The shepherds scorned him for such a frivolous journey. Eleazar showed them the new star in the heavens, but they still did not believe.

After resting briefly, Eleazar thanked the shepherds for the bandages and the bread and water they shared with him. But the bandages could not bind up the pain and humiliation he felt in his heart. As he limped into the night, he could hear the shepherds mocking him for his endeavor. Eleazar decided it did not matter. He would press on to his destination. Clutching his staff tightly, Eleazar got back on course and followed the star once again. It would take him much longer to reach the stable at his slow pace, but his little white friends urged him on. The young man worried that his fractured staff would not be sturdy enough to hold his weight, but he leaned on it for the rest of his journey to the stable.

As the darkness began to withdraw, Eleazar realized that it would soon be morning. His friends had surely reached the stable much earlier, but he had journeyed the entire night.

Weary and sore, Eleazar was grateful to finally see the light of the new star resting on the stable. When he finally took his last feeble step and reached the entrance of the stable, he heard a loud crack, and his staff broke completely. Thankfully, the shepherd no longer needed the staff for support. Now he could fall down and worship the Holy Child.

When you receive a broken candy cane, be grateful. Think of Eleazar’s staff, and remember that the broken candy cane is the most special one of all.

Eleazar is a Hebrew name meaning God has Helped

Nuri is a Hebrew name meaning My Fire

38 The Gutierrez Girls Save Christmas

It was a typical Thursday in December. Typical, except for the fact that tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. Lea and Heneka, The Gutierrez Girls, were busy doing their homework, Aunt Silvia was cooking dinner, Chimichanga, their pet burro, and Churro, their giant puppy dog, were playing tug-of- war over an old sock. Uncle Jesse and his friend Josh were watching wrestling on TV. The wrestling program they were watching was sponsored by a national department store. The advertisement came on between wrestling matches. A kindly looking old gentle man came on the screen....

Hello, My name is Grinchwell S. Duggins for The Grinchwell Department Stores. I would like to invite you to come in and see the wonderful deals that we have for the holidays. We have all of the latest toys for girls and boys at the Grinchwell Department Stores. Bring the Kids in on Saturday to meet the Grinchwell Holiday Elf…..

Lea thought it was kind of odd that the department store had the Grinchwell Elf instead of Santa Claus, but, oh well….The family had a nice dinner that evening, Lea said the prayer, and everyone was happy.

Suddenly the phone rang. Heneka said, “may I be excused” as she got up to answer the phone. The voice at the other end of the phone sounded familiar. “Aaaaaah, hello, aaahhhh, is this the Gutierrez Girls?” Heneka answered, “This is Heneka Gutierrez, can I help you?” Yes this Bo Yamma.” Heneka said “Bo Who?” “You know, President Obama!!, that is my code name when I call you.” “oh, right” Heneka said, what can I do for you President Obama?” President Obama said “Heneka, there is an impending crisis and your nation needs the help of the Gutierrez Girls.” “How can we help?” Heneka replied. President Obama went on to explain “Our foreign intellegence agency has uncovered a covert operation taking place in the northern hemisphere.” Heneka asked “do you mean Canada?” “No, further north” President Obama said. Heneka said, “but if you go north of Canada, you’re at….”

“That’s right,” President Obama said, “THE NORTH POLE.” President Obama went on to explain, “We’re getting credible intelligence that someone is trying to disrupt businesses and bring down the economy of the entire northern region. That could have far reaching effects on the economy of the rest of the world.” Heneka said “The Guiterrez Girls will go up there and see what we can find out.”

Heneka gave Lea the secret Gutierrez Girls signal to let her know that that it was time to go on another mission. The girls ducked into their bedroom, to the trap door under Chimichanga’s bed in the closet and down into their secret hideout. Heneka said, “quick, let’s fire up the flying BMW.” But Lea had a different idea. “Why don’t we take the Rocket Bikes with lazers and rocket launchers? That way we’ll have more weaponry in case we have to fight our way out of a bad situation.”

They hopped on their Rocket Bikes and The Guiterrez Girls were off on another mission. As the rocket bikes drifted into the arctic air space of the northern hemisphere, Lea and Heneka noticed that there was a giant factory surrounded by a village of small cottages and there was snow everywhere. The one thing they didn’t see was people, no one.

Even the factory appeared to be closed. Lea said, “we’d better go look around”. They put on their protective winter gear and walked through the village. As they approached the dark dingy factory the girls looked in the windows and saw that nothing was going on. What appeared to have once been an active and thriving production line had come to a complete halt. Suddenly to her dismay, Heneka noticed piles of unfinished and incomplete toys on the floor. Then it hit her like a ton of bricks as she cried out to Lea in dismay “Oh No, It’s Santa’s workshop!!!!” Lea became very upset as well. “What will happen to Christmas?” she cried, but there was no one there to answer. As they made their way around to the front of the building they saw a large chain on the door and a sign that said….


Heneka cried to Lea, “This can’t be happening… The Gutierrez Girls have to save Christmas!!”

Lea found a rusty crow bar laying in the snow. The girls used all of their strength to pry open the chained up door to the factory. Once inside, Lea said, “we need to set up an office and command center.”

Heneka looked around and found just the spot. There was a big room with phones, computers and a giant map of the world. Heneka flipped a switch on the wall and the map lit up. It had lights that showed time zones and flight patterns all around the globe. Lea said, “This is it. This is where all the magic happens. This is where they track and control Santa’s journey every year.” Heneka said “Yeah, but not this Year.” Lea said“We’ll see about that one little sister.”

As the girls rummaged around the command center looking for clues, Heneka started getting distracted. There were just too many toys and stuffed animals that she couldn’t resist playing for a while. She set up a tea party with the Fairy Princess Doll and for the prince she found a stuffed doll dressed like a Gnome. She would have them dance and then she sat them at the table and shaped their little arms to hold the tea cups. She took the gnomes little hand and placed it around the cup.

She thought heard something, a voice saying, “ouch”, but she wasn’t quite sure. She heard it again…”ouch, it’s too tight”. Now, Heneka loves to talk to her toys, but this was even freaking her out.

“I’m sorry little gnome” she said. The little voice said, I’m not a Gnome, I’m an elf, and I don’t appreciate you treating me like a toy.

Heneka said “do you have a name mister elf?” He said , “of course, doesn’t everybody have a name?. I’ll bet they even gave you one.”

“Well yes, she replied, they call me Heneka.” Heneka? He said, hmmmmmmm, let me see, you live on Middletown Rd. and as I recall, you were just a little bit naughty this year.” Heneka said, “I guess it’s true, Aunt Silvia doesn’t like it when I roll my eyes at her, and I’m trying to control that because I know that Aunt Silvia deserves my respect.” Just then Lea came bursting out of the office, “ I’ve got it, all we have to do is find one of Santa’s Help---pers” as she noticed Heneka and the little elf standing there. “Allright”, he said “you’ve found one of Santa’s helpers. They call me Withers. At your service.”

Withers the Elf told Lea and Heneka a very sad story. It seems that old Mr. Grinchwell S. Duggins came to the North Pole and convinced Santa to go into a partnership of sorts. Grinchwell would use his trucks to get all of Santa’s toys to local distribution centers where Santa would pick them up for each local area and deliver them. That way Santa’s sleigh would not be so heavy and it would save him a lot of work. Grinchwell convinced Santa to mortgage the toy factory to buy into the deal. Santa neglected to read the fine print in the contract and within a week Grinchwell took over the factory and shut it down.

Lea said, “that’s enough, Grinchwell took advantage of a kind and jolly man through means of fraud and deception and that will never hold up in court. Suddenly, the giant computer moniter on the wall started flickering and Grinchwell appeared on the screen. “Why have you ruined Christmas?” Heneka yelled. “I haven’t ruined Christmas” said Grinchwell, “I’ve only made it more profitable for meeeeeee. Tell me, how can I make a profit on toys if that jolly old fat man is just giving them away?” Lea said “I want to see the contract that Santa signed.”

Grinchwell got very mean and said, “we’re beyond that now, you have 2 minutes to get out of my factory.” “Or what” Lea said. “you’ll see” said Grinchwell, “You’ll see”. Suddenly The Guiterrez Girls heard a loud buzzing noise outside. They ran outside only to see that the air was full of Grinchwell’s flying holiday elves. There were hundreds of them and they weren’t really elves at all, they were more like the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz and it looked like they were in attack mode. Lea yelled to Heneka and Withers, “we had better run for the rocket bikes.”

As they ran toward the area where they left the rocket bikes, it was like a combination of a video game and the worst 3-d movie you’ve ever seen. They ran as fast as they could. They jumped over fences and ran under bridges but the flying monkeys kept on coming. Finally they got to the bikes. Heneka grabbed Withers the Elf by the arm and said “you’re riding with me.” Now that they had the rocket bikes things changed. They could not only out run the monkeys, but they had fire power. Lea and Heneka started firing their lazer guns at will. It was just like playing a game in the arcade, except it was real and flying monkeys were falling out of the sky everywhere. Finally the flying predators formed a hasty retreat. All except for one. Lea grabbed one of the Flying Monkeys by the scruff of the neck and took him back to the abandoned factory.

Lea asked the prisoner “Where is Santa Claus and what have you done with all the rest of Santa’s Elves?” He didn’t say anything. “I’m going to ask you one more time.” Lea said, “What have you done to Santa and his Elves.” The little flying monkey got a very sad look on his face and started crying. “Can’t you see” he said, “We are Santa’s Elves. Grinchwell turned us all into these hideous creatures and we have to do his bidding.”

Withers said “Blinky?, Is that really you?” They hugged and Blinky told Withers how lucky he had been to escape when Grinchwell captured the others. “You see”, Blinky said, “Grinchwell has a plan to dominate Christmas and take the place of Santa, except he’s not only going to charge for the toy’s, He’s going to triple the prices.” Heneka said, “parents won’t be able to afford that. It will destroy the spirit of giving.”

Lea asked Blinky, “Where is Grinchwell holding Santa?” Blinky said, “What? He’s not holding Santa anywhere. Santa is in his own home behind the toy factory. The poor fella hasn’t been out of his bed since this whole thing began.” Lea said, “that’s were we have to start. If we’re going to save Christmas, we have to get Santa to lead the way.” Lea, Heneka, Withers the Elf and the newly recruited Blinky made their way to the end of the street to the big stone house behind the toy factory. A kind elderly lady answered the door. Heneka said, “We would like to speak to Santa Claus.” Mrs. Claus said “Oh I’m sorry, but that isn’t possible. He isn’t taking Christmas wishes any more.” Lea said, “we’re not here to ask for our Christmas wishes, We’re here to deliver his. We are here to win Christmas back for him.” Mrs. Claus said “well, I don’t know….” Before She could get the words out of her mouth, the four intruders ran past her and up the stairs to the bed room.

“Darling, is that you?” said Santa. “Would you please bring some more of those soft cookies and a glass of milk?” Lea said, “I think you’ve had enough milk and cookies. Now it’s time to win back Christmas.”

“What” said a startled Santa, “Who are you?” “We are Lea and Heneka, The Gutierrez Girls, and I think you already know these two guys.” Santa said “Heneka? I know that name. Weren’t you just a little bit naughty this year?” Heneka said, maybe I was, but I’m going to make up for that now.”

Santa was under the covers. His beard was all tangled and gnarley. He did not look one bit like the heroic figure of Christmas lore. They pulled Santa to the side of the bed. Heneka said “Let’s hear it….Let’s hear a Ho, Ho,Ho.” Santa said, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and started to lie back down. Lea said “we’re serious Mr. Claus, let’s hear your best HO, HO, HO.” Santa said “O.K., I’ll try.” He took in a big deep breath and reared back and went, “Ho, Hi, Hi ,Hi, Hiiii, I can’t.” “I can’t do it anymore, I can’t. I can’t be jolly.” Heneka said, “you have to be jolly, you have to be Santa Claus for all the boys and girls around the world.”

Santa said “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it anymore.” Just then Mrs. Claus appeared in the doorway with a big red box. “I think you can do it” she said. I think that with the help of these girls it isn’t too late to save Christmas.”

With the encouragement of Mrs. Claus, Blinky, Withers the Elf and The Gutierrez Girls, Santa led them back down to the abandoned toy factory. “Well” he said, “where are we going to find a work force able to get this factory up and running?” Blinky said “I think I can help. I don’t think all the elves really want to work for Grinchwell, even if he did turn them into flying monkeys, I think their hearts are with you Santa.” Lea said, ‘why don’t you and Withers go out and recruit the other elves while Santa, Heneka and I stay here and get this place back up and running.” Santa went to the basement and flipped the giant main switch and suddenly the conveyor belt started moving again.

Creakily at first, but then it started to pick up speed. Before it got up to maximum speed the elves started returning. And within an hour it was like nothing bad had ever happened. Christmas looked like it was back on for good. Everything would be merry after all. Suddenly Heneka heard something she had longed to hear for a longtime… “Ho, Ho, Hoa, Whoaaa, Ho, HoHoooooo. Ho, Ho, Hoooo, Ho, Ho, Hoa, Whoaaa, Ho, HoHoooooo. Ho, Ho” Santa just could not stop laughing. The Gutierrez Girls had done it, they actually saved Christmas……or did they?

Everything seemed to be right with the world. The toy factory was in full operation. Christmas lists from all over the world were being sorted by zip codes and being directed to the head elf of each individual department. The fabricating department was making the parts and putting them on the conveyor belt to the assembly department. All the while the elves were singing happy Christmas songs as Santa and Mrs. Claus looked on. The Guiterrez Girls were saying their farwells, but not before checking with Blinky and Withers to make sure that they had received their own wish list. Suddenly there was a commotion on the floor. Work stopped and the elves were frozen solid in fear. “He’s back” Lea said. And sure enough on all of the computer screens was Grinchwell. His threats were echoing throughout the factory.

“Christmas will be mine, I say…All mine and only mine…Haaaa, haaaaaaa, haaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Santa grabbed a microphone and said “I’m not afraid of you anymore and there is nothing you can do to stop Christmas.” Grinchwell said, “Oh you, of course not, I won’t touch a hair on your chubby little head. But tell me laughing boy…. How are you going to deliver all of those presents with no reindeer?? Haaaa, haaaaaaa, haaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

Heneka said “you better not harm those reindeer, you’ll be in big trouble.” Grinchwell said “oh, no I wouldn’t harm them at all, I just mixed little sleeping powder in with their feed so they can get some well deserved rest. They should be waking up, oh about New Years Day, Haaaa, haaaaaaa, haaaaaaaaaaaaa.” Quickly the computer moniters switched back to the Christmas music but no one was in a mood to sing. Heneka took the news hardest of all because she loves her animals and didn’t want to see the reindeer hurt. Suddenly she had a brainstorm. She said “Come on Lea, I have a plan. Santa, keep the factory going at full speed. Lea and I will be back in 2 hours.” Lea and Heneka hopped on the rocket bikes and were gone in a flash. While they were gone Santa found some left over magic dust from last year and poured it in the heating vent to circulate it throughout the room. His plan worked.

There were no more flying monkeys, only happy productive elves, making toys and having faith that the Guiterrez Girls would be back with a way to deliver them. Suddenly Santa heard the roar of a rocket bike outside. He looked out the window and saw that Heneka was towing a large trailer. She yelled to them “everyone come outside for a moment.” Heneka said “I want you all to meet this years reindeer.” you to meet Jackie Black the bunny and next we have Ertle the turtle. Behind him is Wiley the Bear. Next to him is Lola the Hedgehog, Next to her is Churro the giant puppy dog and this years head reindeer will be my own pet burro Chimichanga”.

Heneka handed Santa a remote control and said “push this button.” Santa pushed the button and heard “Heeeee-Haaaawwww.” Heneka said “see if you come upon a flock of geese, Chimichanga will clear them out for you”. Santa pondered for a moment “yes, I suppose with enough magic dust they could pull the sleigh, I think we’re back in business”. The Elves let out a loud cheer and everyone went right back to work, singing Christmas carrolls and filling wish lists. The Gutierrez Girls said their goodbyes. Heneka gave Chimichanga a great big hug and said “Christmas is Saturday, tell the others I’ll be back to get you on Sunday” and with the flash of a rocket Lea and Heneka were headed back home.

It was a typical Friday evening. Typical except for the fact that tonight is Christmas Eve. Aunt Silvia was surprised that Lea and Heneka had slept in until after noon today, but now they were wide awake and filled with anticipation about Christmas. Aunt Silvia mentioned that she “might run down to Grinchwell’s Department Store after dinner "because they’re having a gigantic Christmas Eve sale”. Heneka said “I’ts too late, they’re closed.” Sylvia said “No, I saw the advertisement on TV, it said Open until midnight on Christmas Eve”. Uncle Jesse said “The newspaper says that Grinchwells is closed for good and that Grinchwell S. Duggins has been brought up on charges of fraud and racketeering. It says the President Obama Himself appointed a task force to look into Grinchwell’s criminal activities.” Aunt Silvia said “really, but how would Heneka know anything about that?” Heneka said “gee, I don’t know, I’m just a little girl”. It was all that Lea could do to keep from laughing out loud. When the girls went to bed that evening they weren’t sure if they were dreaming or not, but they both heard it outside their window…. “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good….Heeeeeeeeeeee-Haaaawwwwwwwww”.

37 Reindeer Poison

It was the Christmas Grandma and Grandpa were in the Philippines on their mission. Instead of going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays, Uncle Grant drove down from school to our house. I idolized Uncle Grant. Everything he did, I did. Everything he said, I repeated five minutes later. Every joke he told, I remembered. He was the perfect combination of grown-up and kid. He was old enough to drive but not too old to have fun.

I could hardly contain myself when Dad told me Uncle Grant would be coming for Christmas. He said that Grant’s girlfriend had uninvited him from meeting her parents, but that was gibberish to me. All that mattered was that he was coming. It was like getting Christmas a week early when he strode through our front door, a duffle bag thrown over his back just like Santa’s sack. Then he dropped the duffle, scooped me up in a big hug, and tickled me until I couldn’t breathe.

Uncle Grant was the exact opposite of Dad. Dad hadn’t picked me up since I was four because of his back, but Uncle Grant picked me up every time he saw me. Dad’s work made him shave every morning; Uncle Grant had so many whiskers that they scratched me every time we wrestled. And Uncle Grant didn’t talk about boring adult things. Mom, Dad, and my other relatives just talked about kids, work, and politics. Uncle Grant talked about sports, video games, and girls. I wasn’t interested in girls, but I loved sports and video games. After Dad showed Uncle Grant his room—it was right next to mine—he sat down and watched me play Mario Kart. He even jumped in as the second player and we spent an hour racing together until Mom called us down for dinner. He even showed me some shortcuts that I didn’t know.

The best thing about Uncle Grant was that he wasn’t gone all day at work. That week was a flurry of playing football in the snow, watching Christmas movie after Christmas movie, and playing Mario Kart until the Wii overheated. Once he stopped in the middle of a race to take a call from his girlfriend. He didn’t come back for an hour, but when he did, he drove like crazy. He even created a third player called Kristie that he’d smash into every chance he got. I asked him who Kristie was, but he didn’t want to talk about it.

The climax of Uncle Grant’s visit came on Christmas Eve. We spent the afternoon putting up a tent in my bedroom that was big enough for two. Uncle Grant tied a rope to the top of the dresser so we could drape a blanket over it. During dinner, Mom and Dad kept telling us to go right to sleep, but Uncle Grant just winked at me. I knew I would never, ever get to sleep with Uncle Grant camping in my room.

Our goal was to stay awake until Santa came so we could hear the reindeer. Uncle Grant had heard the reindeer for at least five years running. Each time Mom and Dad came to check on us, Uncle Grant would flip off the flashlight and we’d dive under the covers. He really fooled my parents with his loud snoring noise. As soon as they were gone, we’d pop our heads out from under the covers and he’d tell me another story. He knew so many stories I’d never heard before. Stories like the one about Blizzard—Frosty’s evil twin brother that terrorized the town until Santa came and ran him over with his sleigh.

It was almost ten o’clock when I started to get super tired. Uncle Grant really wanted me to stay up to listen for the reindeer, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. He thought Dad slipped a sleeping potion into my glass, which explained it all. Finally, Uncle Grant agreed that I should probably get some sleep, and he settled into his blankets too. Tomorrow was a big day for him, he said. He was going to be really rich.

I cracked open an eye and asked him if he’d asked Santa for money.

Oh, no. There was a rich hunter in Montana that wanted Rudolph’s head on his wall. For years, people had tried to capture Rudolph, but he was so smart that they never could get him.

This caught my attention, and I sat straight up.

Every year, Uncle Grant said, more and more people tried to capture Rudolph, but they all failed. Two years ago a group of guys had used a modified bear trap. They caught Dasher, but the rich guy, whose name was Stonerfeller, didn’t want just any of Santa’s old reindeer, he wanted a reindeer with a red nose. This year, Mr. Stonerfeller had raised the bounty for Rudolph.

I pleaded with Uncle Grant to tell me how much it was.

Five hundred dollars.

I couldn’t believe it. That was probably enough to buy every video game ever made. But how would Rudolph ever survive with such a bounty on his head?

Uncle Grant explained that Rudolph had learned not to trust anyone or anything. Instead of landing on roofs, he just hovers in mid-air so he doesn’t land in a reindeer trap. And he never eats anything unless it comes right from Santa’s own glove. He doesn’t want to be poisoned.

I nodded vigorously through this entire explanation, because I knew a lot about Rudolph—I’d watched the movie before Uncle Grant had come over and another time while he was on the phone with his girlfriend.

Then he put his hands behind his head. But that’s why he was going to be rich tomorrow. He had figured out how to catch Rudolph. I waited for more, but he didn’t say anything, he just lay there smiling up at our tent.

I was aghast. I couldn’t believe it. I felt betrayal and awe swell up in me in the same moment. I loved Rudolph like—like—almost as much as Uncle Grant.

My mouth was dry. Somehow I gasped out a question: How was he going to get Rudolph?

Elementary, he said. Reindeer poison.

Reindeer poison? What did that mean?

He rolled over on his side. I couldn’t believe it—he was actually smiling. Rudolph only eats out of Santa’s hand. That was the trick. The lettuce out by the fireplace wasn’t just lettuce. It was tainted with Uncle Grant’s special blend of poison. When Santa came up from the chimney, he would hand it right over to Rudolph and—Uncle Grant raised his hand and let it fall on the blankets. Thump. There was enough poison in that lettuce to kill an elephant.

There was only one thing to do. I had to save Rudolph. I had to stop Uncle Grant’s evil plan. I leapt from my blankets and ran to the door. Uncle Grant called out to me, but I didn’t listen. I careened into the hall and I heard him bounding after me. He ran in front of me and blocked the hall. Don’t go into the front room, he said. He was just kidding. No reindeer poison, no Mr. Stonefeller, it was all a story, a joke.

I almost believed him. Then I heard a noise come up the stairs. It was Santa. I could hear him talking. He was probably picking up the lettuce right now.

I yelled to Santa as I ran under Uncle Grant’s arm. I tumbled down the stairs two at a time with Uncle Grant grasping at me. Just as I was about to run into the front room, a man came around the corner. It wasn’t Santa, it was Dad. He started to say something, but I didn’t stop. I dodged around him and right into the living room where I stopped dead in my tracks.

There was my mom, sitting next to the mantel piece. It wasn’t the startled look on her face that stopped me. It was the bit of lettuce she was had in her hand. She had almost eaten it all.

“Quick, quick! Spit it out! Spit it out!” I screamed.

“What?” Mom said. “Spit what out?”

“The lettuce! Spit out the lettuce!”

Mom smiled. Oh, she hadn’t eaten it; these were just the leftovers Santa hadn’t taken.

I gasped. I was too late. Santa had come and gone. There was only one thing to do. I dashed out of the living room, past Dad and Uncle Grant, to the kitchen. I grabbed the phone, and did what they had told me to do since kindergarten. I dialed 9-1-1.

The kitchen exploded with the voices of my parents as they followed me as Uncle Grant frantically tried to explain everything. Mom was laughing heartily, but Dad didn’t think this reindeer poison thing was very funny. I felt proud of my Dad.

While they talked I spluttered an explanation to the emergency receptionist on the phone. I’ve never heard anyone sound so confused. It took my parents about a minute to figure out Uncle Grant’s story enough to focus on what I was doing. When they found out who I was calling, the kitchen erupted into chaos once more. This time Mom was scowling while Dad roared with laughter. Uncle Grant dashed for the phone and tried to explain what was going on. Evidently the ambulance was faster than Uncle Grant, because before he had finished explaining, an ambulance was in our driveway and two EMTs ran into our house in hopes of saving Rudy from being poisoned.

Uncle Grant tried to explain what was going on when three firemen ran in. He started over, and then had to start over once again when a squad car arrived with its sirens blazing. By this time, several neighborhood parents had arrived, some in funny Santa outfits. Our kitchen was a riot of explanation and re-explanation until one of the firemen piped up. A few blocks away, they found Rudolph on the side of the road. He wasn’t looking good, but luckily they had an ample supply of reindeer antidote on hand. It had only taken Rudolph thirty seconds to be back on his feet and flying again.

Everyone laughed, and then the EMTs and policemen took turns telling stories about the other reindeer they’d rescued on Christmas Eve. Mom boiled water for hot chocolate in her biggest pot while Dad handed out Christmas cookies. Eventually the neighbors had to go check if Santa had visited their houses, and the fireman had to get ready in case someone else tried to poison Rudolph again. When the house finally quieted down, Dad suggested that we just open presents then. Mom wondered aloud if Santa had left Uncle Grant coal for what he had done, but apparently Santa felt more forgiving than I did.

Uncle Grant left two days later. I hoped he’d come back the next year, but he didn’t. Instead we drove to Oklahoma for his wedding. The following year, he and Aunt Kristie came to visit us, but it wasn’t the same. He said he had pulled his back and couldn’t lift me up anymore. He sat down to play Mario Kart with me, but he got bored after one game, and went to talk with Mom and Dad about kids, work, and politics. And every morning he shaved.

36 The Lone Airman

Man, I haven't seen these guys in years. It's gonna be great to finally get back together with 'em; it's been nearly 13 years since we were out there, flying air superiority missions over Russia. I pulled into the parking lot and put on my winter coat. It was that time of the year again, everyone's in the Christmas spirit, and with it came the gifts, laughter, and fun, which I sorely missed.

The year was 2035, and my old Air Force buddies were having a Christmas party at a local bar. I had only stayed in contact with one of my former squad-mates since the war with Russia, 13 years earlier. James Macmillan was his name. He spoke with a stereotypical Scottish accent, being a second-generation American citizen. We had been the best of friends since our junior year of high school. He invited me to this party on December 17th, and there was no way I could say no to my best friend.

December 17th. That date has a significant meaning to me, but I'd rather not remember why. Something had happened on that day, years ago (and not just once, either) but it was too painful to think about.

As I stepped into the bar, everyone stopped what they were doing, looked up at me, and unanimously broke into a round of applause, like I was some sort of hero. Wow, it seems they really missed me.

“Hey, hey! There's the fighter ace himself!” James remarked, “Why don't ya come have a seat over 'ere?”

“Whatever you say, Jim. I'm no ace, just got lucky a couple times,” I replied as I sat down next to my brother-in-arms.

We went on with an ordinary conversation: sports, politics, etc. Gradually the topic shifted to the war, and what our lives were like before fate happened. Like any war veteran, we each had our fair share of stories.

“So, what's your story?” One of them inquired.

“Uh, I don't think you guys would really want to know,” I replied.

“Come on man, I think it'd be cool to hear what you've got to say,” my friend, Dave, said.

“No, I'm serious, I really don't want to talk about it.”

“Please, man. I haven't talked to you in 10 years.”

“Are you sure? Do you really want to know what I went through? This is a painful thing for me to talk about. But, you know, maybe it's time for me to get this off my chest. I can't hold in my emotions forever. And I'd hate to let a friend down. ”

“It all started back in '21. I was 25 years old, fresh out of the Air Force Academy with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, at the top of my class, too. My life was going great,” I began, my buddies listening intently to this rarely spoken-of chapter in my life, “I felt like I was invincible. And I had plans. Plans to do a lot of cool stuff.”

“Hey, Taylor,” Dave interrupted, “didn't you have like... a Camaro or something too?”

“Yes, Dave, I did. A 1969 Z/28, with the small-block 302 and the 4-speed transmission. It was stolen a week after we were sent to Europe. The only thing left was the Z/28 emblem from the front grille. I had taken it off and kept it with me as a reminder of home. I considered getting rid of it, but I have held on to it all of these years, in hope that I find my car some day.”

“Where was I? Oh, right, plans. I was gonna change the world, or so I thought. I wanted to be an astronaut. I had someone, backing me up every step of the way. She was the best girlfriend a guy could ever have. She was hot and feisty, yet cute and sweet at the same time. She was incredibly smart, too. I swore to myself I was gonna marry her someday. But, for whatever reason, she decided I wasn't worth her time anymore. On December 17th, she left me. Ah, that's it. That's the memory I tried to erase, but now it's come back to haunt me again. I still remember the last thing I ever said to her, 'No, please don't leave, I... I love you.' I haven't talked to or even seen her since. That year was the last 'real' Christmas I'd had up until now. 13 years, 3 of which were spent literally freezing in the Russian winter.”

“Wow, that's some pretty depressing stuff. I see why you never told any of us about this,” Dave responded quietly, everyone nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, but that's not the end of it, either. After my heart was broken and my dream shattered,” I said, trying not to get choked up, “that recession hit and I lost my defense contractor job at Boeing. I had absolutely nothing. Then, as y'all know, China declared war on Russia, and our brilliant president decided he wanted a piece of the pie. You know what they say, 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia', 'course this is Eastern Europe, but same theory. We ran into the same two problems Napoleon and Hitler did: logistics, and the Russian winter. Our boys on the ground were doing great until uh... December 17th, 2023. They tried to get to Moscow before winter hit, but they didn't make it and were completely screwed. Then some genius had the great idea to send a squad of F-15s to attack some random towns. Seriously, F-15s. They should have retired those things 20 years ago! Flying nearly blind over hostile territory, in a 30-year-old jet. What could go wrong? Jim and I, we were the only ones that made it out of there alive. Barely. We were shot down just outside of St. Petersburg. A whole lot of bad stuff went down after that. Jim knows exactly what I'm talking about.”

“My friends,” James said, “What Taylor and I went through over there, nothing can describe it. Every time I think about that day and the weeks after, it send shivers down my spine, and I realize that God and John Browning are the only reasons we made it back to Germany without spending 50 years in a prison camp or being crushed by a Russian tank. You really get to know a man when you're alone with him, with nothing except a pistol and the clothes on your back, for three weeks.”

“After we found each other,” I continued, “I knew we had to get away from there as soon as possible. Trust me, you do not want to be taken prisoner by the Russians. Actually, after we had been on the ground a week, we were almost captured by a bunch of Russian soldiers. They went on a patrol right through our little camp we had set up. I can't believe they didn't find us. If they had, we'd most likely be dead. A Christmas miracle, I suppose. We spent the next two weeks walking west. January 7th was the day we were rescued. I was about to give up hope, when we came across the Army's First Infantry Division. When I saw them coming to help us, I literally fell to the ground and cried tears of joy. I had never been happier to see the ol' US Army. They fixed us up, and we went back to flying combat missions. Then, the war ended in a stalemate and we got sent back home. I guess that's the end of my story.”

“Wait, dude, I wanna know what you did after you came home,” Dave said.

“I went home and tried to live a normal life, but I just couldn't do it. I hated having a desk job. My passion was for flying. I've been trying to find my car, too, but I never have been able to. What also sucks is that, every Christmas, I'm reminded of these two events, so I haven't really been able to have a 'real' Christmas ever since, but I have a slowly-fading hope, that maybe some day, I'll be able to find my Camaro and my girl.”

After the party, Jim and I talked for a while outside. He invited me to go to dinner with him and his wife the next day. He said his wife was bringing along a friend, who I might like to meet.
“Okay, I guess I could try meeting someone new,” I replied., “I'll go with you, it's worth a shot.”

I sighed as I got into my truck. You know, maybe it's time to give up. 13 years without any luck with either problem. Maybe I need to move on. My mind says I should, but my heart isn't sure if it's the time for that yet.

When I arrived home, I noticed a note on my doorstep. Curiously, I walked over and picked it up.

“Don't give up hope. What you seek is closer than you think,” is what it said.

That's really strange. Why is that here? What could this mean?. I gave the note no further thought that day, but deep inside, it reignited the flame of hope.

The next night's dinner date went fairly well. I had a good time with my best friend and this new girl. She seemed like a nice girl, and was exactly my type, but there was something missing. I felt no real love towards this woman. The 'spark' wasn't there. My mind wandered back to the note on the door, and I realized that I could love no one else. There was only one person that I could ever truly love, and she had left me over a decade earlier.

Feeling slightly depressed after dinner, I returned home and was about to go to bed, when the phone rang.

“There is a package on your doorstep. Open it immediately,” stated a deep, unknown voice.
Indeed, there was a package on the doorstep. There was a date on it: December 17th, 2021. What's the deal here? Why would somebody taunt me with this date? Oh well, I guess I'd better open it and see if there's anything inside. I opened the box, and inside was a second note, and a Chevy Super Sport logo from... 1969!

“Turn on the radio and set it to 93.3 FM,” is what was written on this new note. Hmm... that's my favorite station. This is pretty weird.

Wanting to find out what the big deal was, I turned on my radio, already tuned to the classic hard rock station. “Why Can't This Be Love” by Van Halen was playing. “Wait a second... that's our song! We always used to listen to them, and this song reminds me of her every time I hear it,” I thought aloud, “I don't think today could get any stranger.”

I glanced out the window, and I couldn't believe what was happening. There was a truly surreal feeling as I watched a blue and white 1969 Z/28 pull into my driveway. There was no front emblem on the car. I turned the radio off and went to go sit down for a minute. No way, there is no way this is happening. That's my car out there. My car... it's back. What if she...

I didn't have time to finish my thought, as there was a knock at the door. I hesitated, wondering if I should answer, it felt like the outcome of the rest of my life depended on this very moment. I knew I had no choice, I opened the door, and there she was. She looked as though she hadn't aged a day since I last saw her.

“Hello, Taylor,” she said.

“Why... how did you... what are you doing here?” I stammered, “I... I'm so glad to see you. Where have you been all these...”

“Slow down sweetie, I'll explain everything in just a minute,” she replied, “why don't we go for a drive?”

“Oh, yes, I'd love to.”

I was ecstatic. My Camaro and my girl, both returning on the same night. I quickly hopped into the driver's seat, and I immediately felt right at home. I listened to the rumble of the engine, felt the cold of the leather seat, and a surge of power and joy as she sat down next to me. I switched on the radio. The name of the song was “Caught Up In You” by .38 Special. How fitting. An awesome 80's love song, in an awesome 60's car, with the girl of my dreams.

“Okay, I know you've gone through a lot over the last few years,” she began as we cruised down the road, “I know you feel like I abandoned you. But it was all for a good reason. I'm probably not allowed to tell you this, but a week before I left, I was contacted by the CIA. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. They wanted me to work for them, as an intelligence officer in Eastern Europe. What you said to me the day I left, it has stuck with me ever since. I loved you since the day we met, and I couldn't wait to return. I was supposed to come back the day you deployed to Russia. I knew you weren't gonna be at home, so I decided to continue my work. I kept an eye on you ever since, like a guardian angel. That mission you and James flew, it did a lot of damage to the Russians. When I heard the news that you two went missing, my heart was broken. I thought for sure you were dead, but my heart had a little piece of hope that said you were still alive.”

“Wow, I can't believe it. I had no idea. I thought you were dumping me,” I said, dumbfounded.

“Of course not, silly. The day you were almost captured, I had some knowledge of the Russian army movements in that area. For some reason, I had a feeling that something bad would happen if I didn't do anything. I persuaded your commander to send a mission to try and stop the Russians. It looks like it worked. They stopped a tank division from rolling through there. And you're clearly still alive.”

“That's amazing,” I responded, “It really was a Christmas miracle. But why didn't you return until now?”

“I wanted to come back sooner. I really did. But, as fate would have it, Congress ordered my team to stay over there for an extra 9 years after the war to spy on the Russian government.”
“But what about the 10th year?”

“I spent that whole year looking for your Camaro. I knew that this car meant a lot to you, and it made me really sad to find out it was stolen, but I found it! It's, as far as I know, exactly the same as you left it.”

“How did you find it, and who told you it was stolen?”

“That's another story, for another time, dear,” she stated, “Now, let's go home and have a real Christmas.”

“Oh, I love you.”

“I know you do.”

With my dream girl by my side, and my dream car in my driveway, I had the greatest Christmas of my life. It was the happiest day I'd had in a long time. My heart had healed and all my desires were fulfilled. Thus, from December 25th, 2035 forward, I was no longer a lone Airman.

35 A Soldier's Story

On a cold Christmas night, a mother sat alone in a hospital room holding her newborn son. She rocked the infant in her arms.

“I’d sing you a lullaby, my love, if I had a song.” The mother stroked the face of her baby. “But my voice is weak and I have no rhythm.” She gazed out the window, a longing in her eyes. Then the mother reached into the pocket of her robe and withdrew a folded slip of paper. “I have something much better than music,” she said meekly. “You’re father made me promise I’d share this with you.”

With a tender voice she read from the page in her shaky hand.

“I know we met, once long, long ago

In a place called heaven because I know

Without any doubt we had great joy

In our home above, my sweet little boy.

We lived there and loved without any pain

Without sorrow, or sadness or financial gain.

Then called to earth to grow and to learn

Our unmarked paths were hard to discern.

But I met your kind mother, a woman so true

Without her and great faith, there wouldn’t be you.

Although our family is one that’s quite small

I hold it dear, most precious of all.

I may not be there with you to play games

Or cards or watch sports or build stations with trains.

I will miss your first words, the giggles and smiles

Each step, your accomplishments and even the trials.

It’s adverse but true, my sweet little boy

That life brings us lemons along with the joy

I know that the journey will be long and quite rough

Be there for your mother, stay strong, kind and tough.

For those who are smart and tender and meek

They learn when they’re hurt to turn their cheek.

They comfort the weary, the sick and the sad

They find ways to be happy when things turn out bad.

There’s comfort in knowing we’ll meet once more.

It’s a grand place called heaven with a welcoming door.

We lived there before and were filled with great joy

I’ll see you someday, my sweet little boy.”

The mother gazed into the face of her baby and a tear rolled down her cheek. “In the morning we’ll go home and you’ll meet your daddy,” she said. Then she placed the baby in the bassinette and lay down to sleep.

When the morning’s rays seeped into the room the mother gathered her infant son and her things, then drove to her small apartment. A Christmas wreath hung on the door and baskets of flowers flooded the steps. Although she was grateful for the thoughts and wishes, she left them in place, never touching them or reading their cards.

Inside her humble home, she noticed the undecorated tree, the boxes of ornaments still strewn on the floor. She continued past it, to her room, chose a blue dress – the one her husband always said made her eyes sparkle – and slipped it on. After she put up her hair, she walked with her infant son a quarter mile to the chapel.

“Mrs. Chambers,” the Chaplain said as he shook her hand.

The mother nodded without saying a word, then gazed around at all the people seated in the pews. She walked slowly down the aisle straight towards the pulpit. “Thank you,” she said simply. There were no other words.

She took her seat and listened while the Chaplain spoke. His words filled her head and she struggled to make sense of it all. But as he testified of bravery and valor, Mrs. Chambers felt a stirring within.

When the Chaplain finished, Mrs. Chambers stood. “Chaplain – wait.” She raced towards the pulpit. “I have something else to say.”

He stepped back and waved his hand, guiding Mrs. Chambers forward. “Of course,” he said gently. “Take all the time you need.”

She approached the microphone, unsure of what to say or how she’d hold herself together. She reached into the pocket of her dress, curling her fingers around the folded slip of paper. “I’d like to recite a poem.” With a confidence she didn’t know she had, she patted her pocket and withdrew her hand. “My husband wrote it before he left,” she said. “However, I’ve made a few changes.” She stroked the face of her baby, holding back the tears which waited to make a display down her cheeks. Then, gazing out at the crowd, she recited, from memory, a poem.

“I know we met, once long, long ago

In a place called heaven because I know

Without any doubt we shared a great love

One that was divine, a gift from above.

We lived there and loved without any pain

Without sorrow, or sadness or financial gain.

Then called to earth to grow and to learn

Our unmarked paths were hard to discern.

Mine brought me to you - a man true and brave

Who saluted the flag with each and every wave.

A soldier so noble, with valor and honor

You’d make a great husband, friend and sweet father

You may not be here for the journey ahead

Some soft words of love will be left unsaid

I’ll miss your great warmth, your love, your kind smiles

Each hug, each kiss and even the trials.

It’s adverse but true, my sweet husband dear

That life won’t be the same when you are not near

I doubt not, that you are without pain and grief

It is my only comfort, my solace, relief.

For you were smart, tender and meek

You learned when you hurt to turn your cheek.

You comforted the weary, the sick and the sad

You found ways to be happy when things turned out bad.

There’s comfort in knowing we’ll meet once more

It’s a grand place called heaven with a welcoming door.

For we lived there before in the blue sky above.

We’ll join hands there again, forever, my love.”

When she finished speaking, she listened briefly to the soft sobs of her friends and family. But she tried her best to maintain her composure and walked back to her seat in the front row of the chapel.

The Chaplain stood again and said some final words which Mrs. Chambers never really heard. Her broken heart was aching too much.

At the end of the service after everyone had gathered their things, paid their respects and given their condolences, she sat in quiet reflection. After a while she walked to the front of the chapel and knelt on the low bench at the side of the casket. “Nicholas,” she said softly as she held the baby close to his father. “I’d like you to meet your daddy.” The mother soothed her baby and looked into the sweet face of her husband. “Nick, meet your son.”

With all the strength she had, she kissed her husband’s cheek one last time. She ran her fingers against the fabric flag strewn across her husband’s casket. “I’ll see you once more,” she said. “It’s a grand place called heaven with a welcoming door.”

34 Dauphine the Christmas Doe

Now you have all heard the story about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the biggest misfit in all the North Pole, who managed to find his place when he saved Christmas by leading Santa’s sleigh through a terrible blizzard. There is a lesser known story however, about Rudolph’s granddoe, Dauphine, a misfit just like him.

You may not have noticed it, but Santa’s sleigh is traditionally pulled by all male deer, or bucks. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and of course the most recent addition, Rudolph. Does weren’t considered strong enough to pull Santa’s sleigh with all the children of the world’s toys. Instead, they were expected to stay home and raise the fawns. For the most part, the does were all very satisfied with their lot in life, tending their young and making Christmas fun for all of the North Pole.

But Dauphine was different; she always knew she wanted something else for herself. The bucks just always seemed to be having so much more fun! They had all these special reindeer games to help them learn to fly Santa’s sleigh, and she so wanted to join in! The other does were always playing house and dress up, things she had very little interest in; she wanted to fly, to run, and someday to travel the world. The bucks would never let her join in though! They all laughed at her, saying she was too weak, she could never join in any of their reindeer games. The other does picked on her too, saying that she was a misfit, who would never fit in with either group.

Dauphine was very unhappy, she felt like she didn’t fit in anywhere, and she didn’t see anything changing, this was the way things had always been. One day, she went to her Grandbuck Rudolph for advice, for who else could truly understand what she wanted to do and the reactions of the other deer? Rudolph told his granddoe that she must keep working towards her goal, building up her skills so that she could match any of the bucks. Rudolph told her that as long as she worked hard, and kept an eye out for any chance to prove she could equal any other reindeer, things should work out. She could only do her best; there was no way to force the other deer to accept her.

So Dauphine did what her Grandbuck Rudolph had told her, every chance she got she would go off alone and practice her flying, even carrying increasingly heavy objects with her and upping the distance she flew, to improve her endurance. Her confidence was growing, she knew she was now as good as the members of Santa’s team, and she hoped that the opportunity Grandbuck Rudolph had told her to wait for would come soon.

The day of the tryouts for Santa’s sleigh team had arrived, and nothing had changed for Dauphine. She was sorely disappointed; she had so hoped something would have cone up by now! She couldn’t stand to sit with the other does and watch the backs showing off for Santa, and getting the one thing she had always dreamed of. So Dauphine decided to go to one of her favorite practice spots, Santa’s Icy Trail, a frozen river near a few of the dens further out of town. There had been a surprisingly warm spell in the North Pole that year and the river was now more of Santa’s Slushy Trail, because of which the fawns had been ordered to stay away from it. This order allowed her the needed privacy to practice without ridicule.

Dauphine had gotten so used to the river being isolated, that she didn’t even pay attention to her surroundings as she approached. Suddenly, she heard terrified screams and a cracking noise. She looked around for the rope she had used to practice carrying things with, then dashed towards it. Running along the bank to catch up with the fawns, she took off and landed neatly on the moving ice chunk. Dauphine instructed the fawns to try to tie the rope to a chunk of ice sticking up from the piece they stood upon, using their teeth to maneuver it, a method she had practiced to perfection. With her guidance the fawns succeeded, and then tied the other end around Dauphine, their hopes rising after witnessing her skillful flying.

Dauphine did a stationary take off, no easy feat, just as Jingle Falls came into sight. She flew with all her might, upstream and towards the river bank. It took every last bit of strength she possessed, the fawns and ice had been much heavier than anything she had practiced lifting, especially against the current of the river. She managed to pull the ice close enough to the bank for the fawns to hop off. With a sigh of relief, Dauphine landed, and all her energy spent, collapsed to the ground. The eldest fawn, Flash, whose father just happened to be Comet, dashed for help, quickly returning with some panicked mothers, and a large gathering of other bucks and does. They gathered up Dauphine and the younger fawn, and took them to be checked out by Santa!

While Santa checked the younger fawns out and Dauphine slept, the eldest fawn told the group the whole story of Dauphine’s daring rescue. The does and bucks were astounded and ashamed of the way they had treated Dauphine, just because she had different dreams than the other does. Santa was extremely impressed, she had shown the qualities he valued most on his reindeer team; innovation, determination, strength, and concern for others. As the auditions for his team had been disrupted by the emergency, Santa came up with an idea, which he ran by the gathering of reindeer. He felt the best reward for Dauphine’s heroism was to award her a spot on his team, and the reindeer agreed unanimously!

The first thing Dauphine saw upon awakening was her Grandbuck Rudolph, who happily informed her of the new developments while she had been sleeping. She couldn’t believe it, her dream had come true! She was a member of Santa’s team of reindeer, and she had won her place among their other herd members. Dauphine the doe had followed her Grandbuck Rudolph’s footsteps as a former misfit, who now felt like the happiest doe that ever lived.